The Four Keys to Well-Being
Article by Richard J. Davidson (2016)
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What is the Science?

“Well-being is a skill.” Such is the conclusion of neuroscientist Richard J. Davidson. Davidson’s claim is based on his scientific research into the plasticity of certain neural circuits associated with well-being. According to the research, by practicing the following four “skills,” neural circuits can be strengthened, providing “enduring change which can help to promote higher levels of well-being in our lives.” Davidson’s four practices are as follows:

  1.     Resilience. Defining resilience as the ability to recover quickly from adversity, Davidson suggests that this trait might be neurologically strengthened through mindfulness meditation.
  2.     Outlook. Seeing the positive in life’s circumstances, Davidson suggests, is an important key to well-being. Developing outlook can occur, “quite quickly,” with regular practices of “loving kindness” and “compassion meditation.”
  3.     Attention. Another building-block of well-being, attention can be developed by small acts such as putting down the cell phone and being more present when we walk from place to place.
  4.     Generosity.  Davidson cites the “plethora of data” showing the connections between well-being and altruistic giving. By living generously, he suggests, humans can strengthen and nurture a quality that they have possessed from birth: generosity.

The human brain is always being shaped by our practices. By adopting these four practices, Davidson suggests, we can be more intentional in shaping our brains toward well-being.

“Well-being is fundamentally no different than learning to play the cello. If one practices the skills of well-being, one will get better at it.” – Richard J. Davidson

What is the Theology?

The suggestion that we are shaped by our practices should be expected news for Christians (Phil. 4:8-9). Yet Davidson’s research might help preachers gain insight into the science—specifically, neurological circuit strengthening—behind practices such as loving kindness, prayer, presence, resilience, and generosity. Even more, Davidson’s article might provide Christian communities with a nuanced understanding of human thriving that relies heavily on practices already valued in churches.

What to Consider

  • Have you ever considered well-being a skill in need of regular practice? How might Davidson’s work influence your understanding of human flourishing?
  • How might Davidson’s insights into “resilience” influence your practices of prayer?
  • How might Davidson’s insights into “attention” influence your practices of pastoral care (e.g. pastoral presence)?
  • How might Davidson’s insights into “generosity” influence your practices of giving (e.g. theology behind tithing)?
  • What steps can you take this week to practice one or more of these skills (i.e. resilience, outlook, attention, generosity) in order to pursue your own well-being?

How to go Deeper

  • Encourage and resource persons/families in your church to practice praying together by emphasizing how meditation and prayer can increase resilience to hardship.
  • Exploring the connections between “outlook” and practices of “loving kindness,” by planning a service project. Afterwards, invite church members to share how serving may have improved their outlook.  
  • Challenge your congregation to engage in the well-being practice of “attention” by leaving their phones at home or in the car on a Sunday morning. Note the stress this may cause and encourage members to pursue a community defined by their non-distracted attention toward one another.

Relevant Scripture

All references in parenthesis refer to Lectionary readings. For more information on what the Lectionary is, please click here. For additional Lectionary resources click here.

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About the Author:

Michael Wiltshire serves as an assistant pastor at Rose City Church in Pasadena, CA. He holds an M.Div from Fuller Theological Seminary (2016) and a B.S. from Cornerstone University, double majoring in Biblical Studies and Youth Ministry. While studying at Fuller Theological Seminary, he co-led the Fuller Faith and Science student group and worked in residential community. Michael is passionate about pastoral care, and is dedicated to exploring how preaching, practical theology, and organizational systems can empower churches to care well. A Michigander at heart, Michael enjoys cloudy weather and the NBA.

2 Comments

  1. matt@ncstudycenter.org July 10, 2017 at 2:33 am

    There do seem to be Scriptural resonances here.

    Resilience: perseverance/long-suffering

    Outlook: joy

    etc.

  2. matt@ncstudycenter.org August 4, 2017 at 11:04 pm

    Curious: How is nuero-science research translated into verbal language of these four practices? I.e. how does the science translate to these four descriptors?

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